Preparing students for the world of work

I read an interesting article today on the BBC, reporting that careers advice is on ‘life support’ in many schools in England, with teenagers having little knowledge of the workplace.

There have been many concerns about the quality of the careers advice that is currently offered to students during their education, resulting in worries that young people lack an understanding of the jobs market. Whilst there is advice available online and through special phone lines that have been set up, it’s the face-to-face guidance – arguably the most important bit – that seems to be lacking.

When I think back to my school days (which admittedly was a while ago now), I would probably say I wasn’t offered the level of careers guidance that I would have liked. It seemed like, rather than actually helping us find out what sort of job we’d be suited to, they asked us what we wanted to be and then told us what we needed to, academically, in order to get there.

Bearing in mind today’s job market is far more complex than it used to be, it is possibly more important than ever for students to be provided with structured careers guidance during their school days, when they still have time to gather the necessary skills and experience for the career they’re keen to follow. It goes without saying that young people need the skills that employers demand – we can’t really afford to waste talent when the long-term economic outlook is so challenging.

While I think careers advice is essential for students and is definitely something that should be considered as more of a priority in schools, I don’t think it’s enough on its own.

Work experience is something that I would consider as invaluable. Not only does it provide young people with some idea of what they do and don’t enjoy, which is useful when it comes to choosing a career path, but it also gives them (and their CV) an edge that other candidates going for the same job may not have – experience, skills and transferability for example.

When I did my compulsory work experience in Year 10, I spent two weeks at a primary school. Although it wasn’t the career path that I chose to take in the end, it provided me with a basic understanding of the world of work, and gave me the chance to basically live a week in the life of a teacher, with a taste of some of the responsibilities that they are faced with on a day-to-day basis.

I also feel that ‘real world’ skills are hugely important, and that students need to be armed with them when they leave school. These are the skills that allow young people to adapt and learn – communication, problem solving and team working, for example. These, among others, are things that will prepare students for the world of work and are transferable skills that can be put into practice when they arrive for their first day in a new job.

To summarise, I think careers advice at school is extremely important. I don’t think it’s enough on its own though, it’s a part of the bigger picture. In my opinion, the combination of advice, experience and skills is what students need, and with the right balance of these they’ll be raring to go!



Learning from those with learning disabilities

I know that Learning Disability Week, a week of national campaigning and awareness raising run by Mencap, isn’t until August, but I was so moved by a case study I have just completed for College Park School, Westminster, that I wanted to flag it up a little early.

The NHS defines Learning Disability as ‘the way a person learns new things in any area of life, not just at school’. It goes on to detail how learning disability affects the way people understand information and how they communicate, so they may have difficulty coping independently or learning new skills. Mencap’s Lesley Campbell says that if a child has a learning disability, in practical terms this means that it is ‘harder for [them] to learn, understand and communicate than it is for other children’.

Understanding that its pupils are not the same as their mainstream peers, College Park School does not aim for the same outcomes; the school’s philosophy is “Preparation for Life”. It prepares pupils for life beyond school, providing them with opportunities for learning skills and knowledge; ultimately preparing them for their place in the adult world. I found this hugely inspiring as I believe that all schools, SEN and mainstream alike, should prepare students for the big, bad world… for life!

Ricardo Clarke, a teacher at the school, explained how important it is for his students to be able to identify when someone is happy, sad or angry, or to learn how to cross the road safely, travel on a bus or train, use the shops and find local facilities, as these skills often don’t come naturally to children with learning disabilities. However, I think that all schools should stress the importance of these skills to their students. I know that as a young child without a learning disability, I would have still benefitted hugely from such life lessons.

On your bike!

In a recent report, the Department of Health stated: “Physical education is not limited to training in physical skills, and has more than just a recreational dimension. With involvement in many physical activities comes knowledge and insight centred on principles and concepts such as ‘rules of the game’, fair play and respect, bodily awareness, and the social awareness linked to personal interaction and team effort in many sports.” Prime Minister David Cameron clearly supports this view, having announced a £150 million a year boost to primary school sport in March this year.

There are several studies that examine the benefits of regular intense activity. Research has shown a positive correlation between good behaviour and exercise and being active from childhood leads to better performance in mental tests at the age of 50. What’s more, did you know that children can half their risk of becoming obese by taking part in 15 minutes of activity every day?!

Next week marks ‘Bike to School Week’, encouraging children (and hopefully many teachers too) to travel to school on their bikes. Cycling is the third most popular recreational activity in the UK and according to the NHS online, an estimated 3.1 million people in the UK ride a bicycle each month.
Cycling has many benefits; for a start, it can easily be incorporated into a daily routine because it’s also a mode of transportation. This is in turn helps the environment and decreases the amount of traffic on busy school roads.

For those of you who are perhaps a little exercise shy, cycling is great because it’s a low-impact type of activity, (unless you have to cycle up a steep hill for 20 minutes to get to the school gates!) so it’s easier on your joints, but still gets you into shape.

So with summer finally setting in, what better way to make the most of the sunshine than cycling to school? Who knows, it might inspire the next Bradley Wiggins!

Time for a break for teachers

The sun is finally out, the windows are wide open in the Mango office – is it too keen to hope that summer might finally be on its way?

The general consensus if you were to ask for people’s memories of their summers as children is bound to be about the six week summer holiday which seemed to stretch forever. There has been great debate however in recent years as to whether school holidays, especially the summer break, are too long.

Nottingham city council has already announced plans to cut the summer holidays to four weeks instead of six, and to split the school year into five terms. They say that the school holidays are too long and that children from poorer families can fall behind because of the lengthy summer break.

A few weeks ago my colleague Joanna shared her thoughts on why the school summer holiday should stay, with great memories of her never-ending summer breaks, and argued that the increased pressure on children to perform sees them need time out.

I wanted to add my thoughts on why it is more than just the children who need the school break – what about the teachers?

My parents are both teachers in an over-subscribed secondary school. For many people, the thought of being a teacher must be great – finishing for the day at 3.30pm, and long holidays on top of that! However, having grown up with my parents and their friendship group of colleagues, the reality is very different. My Dad is almost never home before 7pm, and last half term he spent every day at school getting lesson plans/marking/equipment ready. Experience tells me that he is not alone in working a huge amount of unpaid ‘overtime’; often his department will work late for weeks on end, staying behind as deadlines close in and students begin to panic about finishing their work in time.

Former teacher and educational researcher Dr Kevin Eames says the pressures of teaching are very intense and draining: “Teachers I’ve worked with who have come in from law, finance and journalism have commented that it is the most demanding, tiring and busy thing they have ever done.”

School holidays, and in particular the summer break (of which on average three weeks I would imagine will be spent either in school or doing work for school) are therefore the only opportunity for a well-earned rest!

Mary Bousted of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers agrees: “Despite official figures showing that the average teacher works more than 11 hours of unpaid overtime each week, despite most teachers having to prepare and mark work in the evening and at weekends and despite many teachers voluntarily coming in during school holidays because they care about the future of their pupils, the Secretary of State says that schools should be open longer.”

The move to change school holidays could be a big blow to a profession that really does deserve a break!

What are your thoughts?

Teaching children to swim to save lives


There is often much discussion around which skills should be taught in school and which skills parents should take responsibility for.

Research from the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) has highlighted the vital role schools need to play in teaching children to swim and has warned that half of seven to 11-year-olds in England cannot swim the length of a standard pool.

These statistics are made more worrying by the fact that drowning is the third largest cause of death in under-11s. So should this matter of life and death be the responsibility of teachers or parents? It should be a bit of both, although The UK Government has emphasised the role of schools in teaching children to swim by recommending pupils have 22 hours of swimming lessons per year, although it is believed that only 2% of state schools delivered on this recommendation.

Experts believe that schools should be prioritising swimming and that Ofsted should focus its PE inspections on swimming, as it is the only sport that can save lives. There are of course many reasons why some schools struggle to meet the 22 hour guideline; the cost of transportation, as many primary schools are not equipped with a pool, lack of time in the school day and increasing pressures to deliver top exam results. These all impact negatively on schools’ swimming provision.

There is some hope however, in the form of £150m funding from the government, towards school sports. ASA is calling for the lion’s share to be spent on swimming and water-safety skills. Hopefully schools will seize this opportunity and the chance to ensure future generations are more confident in the water.

I am still surprised when my contemporaries admit that they cannot swim a full length of the pool or even keep themselves afloat for a prolonged period of time. I was fortunate enough to benefit from out of school coaching as swimming lessons were practically non-existent in my primary school. It is a skill that stays with you for life and as a result I feel confident that if I or someone else got into danger in the water, I would be able to help the situation. Unfortunately, assuming that all parents will teach their children how to swim is too unreliable, due to a number of variables; income of the family, proximity to a swimming pool and whether working parents have enough time to take their children swimming.

More awareness is being raised about the importance of swimming and with additional funding being made available in September 2013, schools are uniquely placed to make a difference.  

St Augustine’s Priory

Founded by an order of nuns in 1631 in France, St. Augustine’s Priory is steeped in history; one of the feisty nuns decided to became a suffragette. During the Second World War when the air raid sirens sounded, the cannonnesses would lead the girls down to the cellars where lessons would continue.

In 1790 it moved to the UK and is now an exciting, fulfilling and inspiring place to learn. Mango has recently been lucky enough to be given the task of reminding local families of the wonders of the school.

At its open day this week Mangos Rachel Womack, Rebecca Rocca and Rachel Mortell (you wouldn’t believe how many Rachels and Rebeccas we have on the team here!) were shown around the school by 6th former, and articulate poet, Rebecca (there’s always a job for her at Mango with a name like that!)

New headteacher Sarah Raffray has certainly transformed the school into the most wonderful world of learning experiences. Summarising the school’s ethos she says; “St.Augustine’s Priory aims to breed intellectual risk takers.”

The school focuses on valuing each child’s self-knowledge as well as their academic excellence. Their belief is that, if the school develops happy and respected individuals, this has a positive impact on their learning and on the rest of their lives.

During the tour of the school it was very clear that this is exactly what St Augustine’s is set to achieve. The new science block offers a learning environment set to inspire the next generation of female innovators, the art that the girls produce is of an incredibly high standard and the teachers are very committed to the ethos of the school and all its pupils.

But it’s not all about classroom learning. Set in the most beautifully extensive grounds with 12 tennis courts and a classroom within a woodland area, the school is also open to the girls’ parents and children for picnics at the weekend, tennis lessons or just a nature ramble.

It is an exciting time for St.Augustine’s Priory and we look forward to working with them over the next few months.

Spreading a video virus across the web

This week’s blog is inspired by the increasing number of shared video content which let’s face it, in this digital age, we can’t really avoid. The sharing and re-sharing of videos via email and through Facebook and Twitter have undoubtedly given rise to the phenomenon of theses ‘viral’ videos.

It goes without saying that shared video content is more popular than ever before, with more than 48 hours worth of video being uploaded to You Tube every single minute. Given that You Tube is the most popular video sharing website on the web and only six years old, there is huge potential for virtually any video content to go viral.

A viral video is quite simply a video that becomes popular through internet sharing. As a platform for sharing, social media lends itself and has certainly triggered the drastic increase that we have seen over the last few years. Two of the most viral You Tube videos last year were Kony 2012, which received more than 100 million views in six days, and Gangnam Style, which according to Unruly Media was shared 29 million times!

For businesses it has become a widely used marketing tool; viral marketing dates back to the mid-1990s when marketers wanted to create slogans or taglines that would be spread through word-of-mouth. The latest form of this ‘infectious’ marketing is viral video, which is commonly used as part of a campaign these days.

So what does it take for a video to go viral? I really don’t think there is an answer, there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason if we look at some of the videos that have gone viral in previous years. It sounds obvious, but shareability is the most important element; the content needs to contain something that deals with topical subjects or characters of importance to people in a cultural context – someone or something that people would want to share and discuss. If the content relates to anything that people are already talking about then it’s bound to be a big hit. Additionally, it needs to be easy to share, so made in a format and tone that users would want to share.

Here are some interesting statistics about viral video, which are quite fascinating:

More than 3 billion videos are viewed each day on YouTube
71% of smartphone users have searched after seeing an online video advert
Fewer than 10% of the population will always skip online video advert
10 billion video adverts were viewed by Americans in May 2012
100 million people take a social action on YouTube every week
700 YouTube videos are shared on Twitter each minute
38% of online videos adverts are more memorable than traditional televisions adverts
243% of videos increase the time spent on a webpage

What’s your favourite viral video? Let us know!

National Autism Month

This April marks National Autism Awareness Month. First established in the 1970s, this campaign was created to keep the public informed about autism and how to support those with the condition.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people and how they make sense of the world around them. It is a spectrum condition which means while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Whilst some sufferers are able to live relatively independent lives, others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support. There are more than half a million people in the UK with autism and the condition is thought to affect one in 110 children.

People with autism have said that to them, the world is a collection of people, places and events which they struggle to make sense of, leading them to feel highly anxious. The three main areas of difficulty which all people with autism share are social communication, social interaction, and social imagination.

People with autism have difficulties with both verbal and non-verbal language. Many have a very literal understanding of language, and think people always mean exactly what they say. Some people with autism may not speak, or have fairly limited speech. They will usually understand what other people say but prefer to use alternative means of communication, such as sign language or visual symbols. Others will have good language skills, but they may still find it hard to understand the give-and-take nature of conversations, perhaps repeating what the other person says or talking about their own interests at length.

People with autism often have difficulty recognising or understanding other people’s emotions and feelings, and expressing their own, which can make it more difficult for them to fit in socially. Difficulties with social interaction can mean that people with autism find it hard to form friendships – they may want to interact with others but are unsure how to.

Social imagination allows us to understand other people’s behaviour, make sense of abstract ideas, and to imagine situations outside our daily lives. Autistic people find it hard to understand and interpret other people’s thoughts and actions or engage in imaginative play and activities. However, difficulties with social imagination should not be confused with a lack of imagination; many people with autism are very creative.

With several of Mango Marketing’s clients operating in the Special Educational Needs (SEN) sector, I thought it would be worth compiling a list of toys, books, play equipment and games that teachers and parents may find popular with young children with autism.

Autistic children tend to prefer toys that involve visual-spatial skills. These could include:

• Bubble blowers
• Colour torch
• Jack-in-the-boxes
• Lego and other construction toys
• Jigsaws
• Train toys
• Drawing, colouring and painting
• Picture or word lotto
• Videos

Rather than just a book with plain text, try looking at some of the following:

• Books with flaps
• Books that encourage readers to touch and feel different textures and fabrics in them
• Puzzle books

It is useful to encourage physical activities that are enjoyable without the need for imagination and understanding or use of language. Physical exercise is reported to diminish bad behaviour and such activities are also helpful for improving problems of motor co-ordination. Here are some suggestions:

• Slide
• Climbing frame
• Swings
• Toys which children can ride: bicycles, toy tractors, etc
• Sand pit
• Paddling pool

It is worth trying to engage autistic children in simple games. Some of the more able autism sufferers learn to play chess very well because of their excellent visual-spatial memories. Board games may also prove successful as they teach the concept of winning and losing. Some games children with autism could play with others include:

• Snap!
• Skittles
• Connect 4
• Guess who?
• Snakes and ladders
• Chess

Charities such as the National Autistic Society aim to give people living with autism the support, education and training they need to help them to live as independently as possible and feel part of the community and wider society. So why not help raise money for this charity or others like it today?!

“We’re all going on a summer holiday”

Summer, after all, is a time when wonderful things can happen… for those few months, you’re not required to be who everyone thinks you are, and that cut-grass smell in the air and the chance to dive into the deep end of a pool gives you a courage you don’t have the rest of the year… summer opens the door and lets you out. Deb Calleti, author.

I think it’s fair to say American writer Deb Caletti, sums up pretty well the loveliness of summer. Now I know some of you may think I’m getting slightly ahead of myself having just experienced the coldest March in the UK since 1962, not to mention a eclectic mix of snow, hail, rain with only fleeting moments of sunshine these past couple of weeks, but according to an article on the BBC News website today, education secretary Michael Gove has urged for longer school days and shorter holidays for students. Gove argues, “If you look at the length of the school day in England, the length of the summer holiday, and we compare it to the extra tuition and support that children are receiving elsewhere, then we are fighting or actually running in this global race in a way that ensures that we start with a significant handicap.”

Those opposing the idea include Christine Blower of the National Union of Teachers who said in response to Gove’s statement, “Teachers and pupils already spend longer hours in the classroom than most countries and also have some of the shortest summer holidays.” I think Brian Lightman of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) hits the nail on the head though when he says, “The quality of the learning happening in the classrooms when children are in school is more important than the number of hours they spend there.”

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my school summer holidays. Cycling to the park with my friends, (for actual fun and not to keep fit!), picking berries with my Mum and sister to make jam, catching grasshoppers and keeping them as ‘pets’ for the day, going to the beach and coming home with windswept hair and a fresh set of freckles on my face, to name a few. The idea of having my holiday shortened would have horrified me as a child and does now as an adult. It seems students today are under constant scrutiny and feel a huge pressure to perform. What’s more, many schools make a point of setting coursework over the holidays to be completed by the time students return. In my opinion, young people need time to kick back and enjoy a well deserved and much needed break. Life is about balance and making sure you have time out from studies to refresh your mind and enjoy some quality time with friends and family.

Let the kids play is what I say!

Giving girls an education

An item in the news today grabbed my attention, looking at a new documentary that follows nine girls around the world in their quest to get schooling.

Entitled ‘Girl Rising’, it features the stories of individual girls from Cambodia, India, Peru, Egypt, Nepal, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Haiti and Sierra Leone. What unites them is their desire to get an education, and the difficulties they face in doing so.

Considering myself ‘well-educated’ in comparison to many globally, I for one am passionate that all girls have the chance for an education. As currently an all-female team (girl power and all that!), the issue of education for women is important to us Mangos. Each of us have completed compulsory education, further education and we are all lucky enough to have a degree under our belts. Without this background, we are conscious that the likelihood is that none of us would be in the privileged position we are today.

As the documentary points out, education isn’t just about getting job however. Education for women globally improves health standards, reduces child trafficking, increases a country’s GDP, and breaks the cycle of poverty – as well as giving individual girls the chance at a better life. As narrator in ‘Girl Rising’, actress Meryl Streep said “Educating women and girls has the most optimistic, positive effects on families, communities and economies worldwide.”

A number of initiatives are working to recognise the impact of education, including the Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC) from the British Government which launched last month. This aims to help up to a million of the world’s poorest girls improve their lives through education. One example is the £30 million Step Change projects forming part of this that will be led by non-state organisations and will quickly and effectively expand education opportunities for 670,000 girls at primary and secondary level in nine focus countries.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative launched in 2000 is a partnership of organisations committed to narrowing the gender gap in primary and secondary education. It also seeks to ensure that, by 2015, all children complete primary schooling, with girls and boys having equal access to free, quality education.

I hope that hearing the stories of these individuals can really bring home the importance of global education for women, and will encourage people to support initiatives such as the above.

Here is just a taster of some of the facts that astounded me surrounding women and education. Research has found:

• Worldwide, 66 million girls are missing out on an education
• It is estimated that, of those girls who are enrolled at school, 100 million will drop out of school before they even complete their primary school education
• In 2008, it was estimated the economic cost to 65 low and middle income transitional countries of failing to educate girls to the same standards as boys is a huge $92 billion each year
• In 2004, the amount needed to be spent on basic education for all was less than the amount the USA and Europe spent on ice cream ($31 billion)
• A girl with an extra year of education can earn up to 20 per cent more as an adult
• When a girl in the developing world receives an education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children
• In Nigeria, 71 per cent of women with no education think violence is justified when a woman leaves the house without telling her husband, compared to 33 per cent of those with secondary education
• Early pregnancy limits the chances of a girl finishing school. In Ghana, 83 per cent of parents listed the possibility of girls falling pregnant as a disadvantage of schooling them.
• The tendancy for girls doing household chores sees girls in Guinea Bissau for instance working an average of eight hours a day on household chores compared to an average three for boys, meaning a lack of time for schoolwork